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Memories of Canadice NY

My Father’s Hands

By Mina Preston Oliver - The Canadice Chronicle

April 1996

My father, a typical farmer, worked hard. Farming could not be neglected. Cows had to be milked morning and night, sheep and horses taken care of, and crops grown for livestock and cash. My father’s hands showed that he worked hard all his life. He had short, stubby fingers and broad thick hands.

The cows he milked through the years felt his strong grip; the calves, his fingers as he taught them to drink from a pail. Those hands helped a mother cow deliver her calf. They carried full pails of milk to the milk house, pitched manure, silage and hay.

A Good Shepard

He took tender and loving care of his sheep. Many winter mornings he would walk the snowy path to the sheep barn. If a new lamb was expected, time meant nothing to my father. One or two o’clock in the morning would find him trudging through the snow to the barn. The flock’s lambs were born in January. Early lambing meant good sized lambs for the fairs where they were displayed for prizes.

On his visits to the barn he never knew what he would find. A ewe down, giving birth to a lamb, might have to be separated from the flock. Sometimes my father had to help the newborn suckle from its mother. Other times the mother would disown her lamb. My father would then scoop the newborn into his arms and bring it up to the cellar of our house, by the furnace.

There, in a potato crate lined with bags, he would gently place the lamb. He would then place another crate over the first one, because sometimes the lamb would become frisky by morning and would run around the cellar. He would prepare a bottle with warm milk and a little molasses, cap it with a special nipple, then gently place the nipple in the lamb’s mouth, urging it to start sucking.

Other Chores for Will’s Hands

My father’s hands treated sores on the cattle, sheep and horses. They gently rubbed special salve on them. He rubbed balm on the caked udders of the cows and doctored many other animals back to health.

The fences and barbed wire surrounding the pastures felt those hands as they stretched wire and hammered in fence posts. They repaired machinery, harnesses for the horses, household items and leaky roofs. They sharpened mower blades, planted grass seed, dug potatoes, pitched hay and piled up bales of hay and straw.

Taking Care of His Hands

When sheep were sheared, the wool from each animal was bundled separately and placed in a long wool bag. When the bag was full, it was sewn across the top by hand. During this activity, my father’s hands felt soft from the lanolin in the sheep’s wool.

His hands did not stay this way for long. Usually they showed a lot of calluses. Blisters, blackened fingernails and cuts here and there showed the dangers of his trade. My father always carried a small pen knife. If was the right size for removing slivers from handling wood. Sometimes he would ask us to pinch where the sliver went in, if he couldn’t pluck it out. If that failed, he would take his pen knife and dig it out. If a blackened fingernail showed blood underneath, out would come his pen knife to drill through the nail and let the blood out. He then poured liberal doses of iodine to prevent infection.

Gentle Hands

I never saw my father misuse any of his animals with those hands. Nor did he misuse any of his family. Those hands rubbed our heads when they ached and his tender touch made our stomach ache feel better. He never showed his affection for us children or my mother when we were present. One time I remember he hugged me when I brought my baby daughter home from the hospital. Those hands could be known to use a strap well when we misbehaved. Then the only place it touched was our behind.

My father’s hands carefully planted sweet pea seeds, made a lattice of string so they would climb and produce beautiful big blooms that smelled so nice. He knew my mother loved sweet peas.

His hands were clasped when he spoke the blessing before each meal. They were together when he thanked the Lord and prayed with his family every morning after breakfast. My mother said one time when the snow was so very deep between the cow barn and the sheep barn, she looked out the window. There was my father, carrying our big cat down the road. He thought the snow was too deep for the cat to walk.

I can still see those hands as they worked so hard to provide a living for his family.